November 25, 2012 – This Thanksgiving I was thankful for leftovers. I needed comfort food after watching my Saints fall to my wife’s 49ers 31-21 with Drew Brees sacked five times. A bad day for the Who Dat Nation. I was also thankful that she was kind enough not to gloat. A couple of cheerful “Whoops!” and she left it at that.
Gumbo is Cajun food. It’s the food of country people. The Cajuns are descended from the Acadians, the French Canadians who settled in south Louisiana after their exodus from Canada in the 18th century. It was the food of a people who weren’t wealthy, who had no food to waste. Consequently the great Cajun dishes we know today, such as gumbo and jambalaya, were made up of whatever was on hand.
I grew up eating my grandmother’s squirrel gumbo. And the gumbo I most remember my mother making was chicken. The best I ever made combined the finest of my native state with that of my adopted home, gumbo made with Alaska king crab. Gumbo can be made from most any meat or seafood. It’s perfect for using up leftover Thanksgiving turkey.
The difference between a soup and a gumbo is the roux. Gumbo without a roux is soup. Gumbo with a well made roux is, well, terrific.
Gordon’s Leftover Turkey Gumbo
½ C peanut oil 1 bunch green onions, chopped
½ C flour 6 cloves garlic minced
1 heaping T dried sage 1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced
1 heaping T crushed rosemary Leftover turkey
1 heaping T dried thyme 6 C chicken broth (or water)
½ C chopped parsley 2 C okra, sliced
1 onion, chopped Salt & pepper to taste
2 stalks celery, chopped Rice
1 bell pepper, chopped File’ (pronounced fee’-lay)
First, make a roux. This is the way I do it. Heat the peanut oil in a heavy stock pot over high heat until it’s hot but not smoking. To determine when it’s hot enough, hold your hand about two inches above the oil. If it feels hot, it is. Add the flour and stir. A spatula with a straight edge is best. I have a wooden spatula that I’ve used for years and dread the day it finally disintegrates. The objective is to brown the flour until it’s very dark and aromatic without burning it. To do that you have to stir. And keep stirring.
When the roux starts to smoke, take it off the fire. Continue stirring until the smoke subsides. The roux will continue to darken while it’s off the heat. Return the pot to the fire, still stirring, and repeat the process. Usually about the third, or maybe the fourth, time you move the pot away from the heat you’ll reach the color and aroma you’re seeking. It’s a dark reddish brown, a mahogany color, with a rich, nutty aroma. Return the pot to the fire and reduce the heat to medium.
Now here’s one of the secrets of a great gumbo: Add the spices to the roux now. Toss in the parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. (Yes, like the Simon & Garfunkel song.) Stir to thoroughly incorporate the spices into the roux. Keep stirring as the roux soaks up the flavors of the spices.
And here’s another gumbo secret: Season in layers. Add a little salt and pepper to the roux as it’s absorbing the other spices. If you want a little heat in your gumbo, add a little cayenne pepper each time you season.
Add the vegetables including the trinity (onion, bell pepper and celery) along with the green onions and garlic. Stir to coat the vegetables with the roux. Cook until the vegetables have begun to soften, about seven to ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Season again with a little salt and pepper.
Add the andouille sausage. (By the way, it’s pronounced an-doo’-ee.) If you can’t find andouille a good kielbasa is a fair substitute. Stir to thoroughly combine the sausage into the roux with the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage begins to brown.
Add the leftover turkey. If you’re using parts like the thigh, drumstick or wings that are still attached to the bone toss the bones in, too. They’ll make the broth better. Add the chicken broth. If you don’t have any chicken broth water will work just fine. Toss in the okra. Season with about a teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Bring to a full rolling boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for at least an hour, until the meat falls apart when you lift it with a spoon and the liquid has cooked out of the okra.
Taste for seasoning occasionally through the simmering process. Add salt about a teaspoon at a time until it tastes right. My theory is you can always add salt but it’s hard to take it out.
Turn off the heat and let the gumbo cool. When it has cooled enough that you can handle the turkey remove the meat with tongs. Discard any bones and shred the turkey into bite size pieces. Return the meat to the pot. Prior to serving warm the gumbo over low heat.
Prepare the rice using a rice cooker. My rice cooker is the stove. Add a teaspoon of salt to two cups of water in a sauce pan and bring the water to a boil. Add one cup of rice and turn the heat down as low as it’ll go. Cover and let the rice simmer for 20 minutes. Do not uncover until the rice is done.
Spoon rice into a bowl. Ladle the gumbo over the rice.
Serve the file’ powder on the side. File’ is ground sassafras leaves. It is a thickener and also adds a very pleasant, subtle flavor. I don’t put it in the gumbo during the cooking process because it has a tendency to form itself into clumps. My preference is let people add it to their bowls as they wish.
Bon Temps! And Geaux Saints!